Review Summary: Don't miss this garden.
Writing and releasing a long-player during an era in which “the dominant modes of listening are single streams and playlists” (from the LANDR blog article titled “Why Streaming Will Never Kill The Album Format”) is stressful enough. Writing and releasing a long-player during this era in a genre which is increasingly losing mainstream popularity is even more taxing. Writing and releasing a long-player for the first time in five years, and for the first time during a global pandemic, during an era that is less friendly to both the album format and heavy rock music must be absolutely maddening. Nonetheless, the determined artists of metal group Gemini Syndrome took the bull by the horns and brought the public 3rd Degree: The Raising
Gemini Syndrome’s first LP, Lux
, was themed around life and growth. The second LP, Memento Mori
, shifted towards death and closure. This record, according to the band, was already slated to be about rebirth and perseverance, before all our lives were thrown into madness. That said, the band’s timing could not have been better with this release, since COVID-19 has likely brought about some frustrated, yet redemptive (hopefully), soul-searching and an equal amount of painful futility. Those moods are generously peppered throughout the record; down-tuned guitar riffs consistently pound away with perfect precision (i.e. “Children of The Sun” and “Reintegration”), the bass rumbles along until it grabs the listener by the throat and totally throttles them (i.e. “Abandoned” and “Die With Me”), the drums and percussion brutally bash and bruise throughout (i.e. “IDK” and “Absolution”), and the vocals fluctuate between a self-assured baritone growl, ferocious screams and howls, and a hopeful, if tentative, vulnerability (i.e. “Abandoned”, “Hold The Line”, “Broken Reflection”). Vocalist Aaron Nordstrom expertly weaves tales of gratefulness (“I missed the garden for the burning trees”, from “Absolution”), confusion (“I don’t ***ing know anything”, from “IDK"), determination (“The song is just beginning, the melody plays on and on and on”, from “Where We Started From”), and connection (“I’d like the god in you to meet the god in me”, from “Die With Me”), to name a few key themes presented here.
Honestly, this proficiency isn’t surprising. The GS camp has always been competent and unique with their craft, modernizing and strengthening core tenets of naughties nu-metal by blending in industrial and progressive elements, but 3rd Degree takes it to another level. To me (I do have diagnosed depression), this album feels like what depressive spells feel like, both lyrically and vocally; it shifts from confident and assured, to broken and desperate, to vengeful and hateful. In this last year, which often shifted from good news to bad news to worse news to ok news to bad news again, that feeling absolutely pervaded my being. Listening through this was cathartic and soul-purging; the line “we always try to hold on, to the pieces that are long gone, but we don’t even want them anymore” (from “Reintegration”) still haunts me.
This album isn’t for everyone, nor is it perfect. “Abandoned” contains some ill-advised shriek-screams that blunt the intensity of what is otherwise an absolute weapon of a track. This project also isn’t going to convert those who aren’t already convinced about Gemini Syndrome and those who prefer finding their solace in a more extreme subgenre of metal will probably be disappointed. For those who like some melody in their chaos, or yearn for the days when the likes of Slipknot, KoRn, and Mudvayne ruled the airwaves, I couldn’t recommend this enough. For those in that camp who have ever struggled with mental illness, or are especially struggling now, don’t miss this gem of a record.